The prime minister is to agree to introduce new rules to cut the £2bn cost of whiplash insurance claims in the motor industry, saying Britain had become “the whiplash capital of Europe” which is inflating premiums by £90 on average.
Billed as an insurance summit and convened on the day the latest inflation figures are published, David Cameron is eager to show he is doing everything possible to protect living standards.
More than 1,500 whiplash claims are being lodged every day and ministers say it is time to harness improved medical evidence, technological breakthroughs, as well as raising the threshold for claims.
At present the average motor insurance bill is £410 – up 17% on last year. The average premiums for young drivers are £2,977 for a male and £1,682 for a female.
Whiplash claims have risen by a third in three years, despite the car accidents rate falling by 16%. The insurance industry is pressing for a minimum driving speed below which any whiplash claim could be rebutted, as occurs in several European countries, and a court-appointed pool of impartial medical experts.
Ministers say they are also prepared to reduce the £1,200 fee that lawyers can earn from small value personal injury claims. They claim this will help bring down the legal cost of many cases and deter speculative health and safety claims.
The government says it will work with the insurance industry to see what can be done to give young drivers access to smartbox technology, such as telematics requiring them to adopt safer driving, to make car insurance affordable. The technology tracks driving behaviour through an electronic box fitted into the car.
Speed, braking, and types of road travelled on are recorded by a small box to measure the safety of the driver.
The insurance industry also wants the introduction of a minimum period before learners take their tests, a structured learning programme, graduated licensing and a zero alcohol limit for young drivers.The government says it has cracked down on uninsured driving, which puts at least £30 on each premium, by making it illegal to run an uninsured car.
Cameron will say he is prepared to protect companies being sued for trivial or excessive claims by extending the road traffic accident claims process and by increasing the value of the claims that can go through it from £10,000 to £25,000. He will tell the industry: “I am determined to tackle this damaging compensation culture which has been pushing up premiums. I want to stop trivial claims, free up businesses from the stranglehold of health and safety red tape and look at ways we can bring costs down.”
Cameron will be joined by several cabinet ministers as well as the Association of British Insurers and insurance firms including Admiral, AXA, Aviva, CFS, RBSI and Zurich.
ABI director general Otto Thoresen said: “The cost of motor insurance reflects our society where it is all too easy to make spurious and exaggerated personal injury claims, where excessive legal costs can outstrip compensation awards and that tolerates the high levels of deaths and serious injuries involving young drivers and their passengers. Urgent action is needed to tackle the surge in whiplash claims which now cost insurers £2bn a year and push up premiums for all motorists”.
But Justine Greening, the transport secretary blamed the way some lawyers were preying on drivers. ” From texting and cold-calling drivers involved in accidents, to running high profile advertising campaigns, lawyers are encouraging people to claim for whiplash injuries sustained in the most minor of incidents – which barely damage the car’s paintwork, never mind its driver.
In a recent report the Transport Select Committee found: “It is difficult to diagnose whiplash objectively and this has deterred insurers from defending claims in court.
“We recommend that the bar to receiving compensation in whiplash cases should be raised. If the number of whiplash claims does not fall significantly as a result there would, in our view, be a strong case to consider primary legislation to require objective evidence of a whiplash injury, or of the injury having a significant effect on the claimant’s life, before compensation was paid.”